Golden leaf turns farmers pale

A farmer waits for transport to ferry him back home after selling tobacco and buying household good at TSF in Harare yesterday - Picture by Kudakwashe Hunda

A farmer waits for transport to ferry him back home after selling tobacco and buying household good at TSF in Harare yesterday – Picture by Kudakwashe Hunda

Leroy Dzenga Features Writer —
National identity cards have turned into a currency as tobacco farmers at auction floors in Harare now use them as collateral to buy food with a promise to pay cash after they sell their tobacco.

The food prepared under questionable conditions has become a serious commodity at the different auction floors around the capital city. Among those who have been using “plastic money” in the form of national identification cards to buy food is a Mr Jemedze, 75.

He left his Centenary Farm about two weeks ago with plans to spend, at most, two days in Harare before returning to his tranquil environs in Mashonaland Central.

Little did he know that circumstances would bring in a new dynamic he had never before experienced in his long tobacco farming career. Delayed processes have kept him in a city he describes as “noisy” longer than he appreciates.

“I came here about two weeks ago thinking that there is less pressure at the floors and my tobacco would sell quickly,” he said.

His tobacco took about a week in the queue to get on the sales floor, a time he spent going through a riveting ordeal.

“I don’t know what happened but my bales took a week to be on the floors. I did not have much cash on me as I had spent most of it on transporting the tobacco,” Mr Jemedze said.

The unexpected slow procession at Tobacco Sales Floor left him stranded.

“I was left with nowhere to sleep because I could not go back home or seek accommodation too far from my produce,” Mr Jemedze explained.

He says he has been sleeping on hard ground with a thin cloth he has been using in the absence of a decent blanket. His tobacco only got to the floors on Wednesday afternoon and he had not made any sales.

“I still haven’t made a cent since I came here. I had to send a call back message to my nephew who brought me five dollars that I have been using to buy food although I am on my last dollar,” he said.

“As soon as I sell something I am heading home, I can’t be going through such gruelling circumstances.”

Among his gravest concerns are the ablution facilities at the floors and how they are failing to accommodate the swelling farmer population. He wishes after selling, his bank would consider his plight and offer him his cash fast.

“I owe people back home, I am unable to get in the field myself but I assign people to do physical duties as I instruct. Those people want their money and I can`t go back home without it because they have helped me,” he said.

Although Mr Jemedze feels like he has overstayed in the capital, at the Tobacco Sales Floor to be precise, there are some who have tripled his duration. One of the many who have been domiciled at the auction premises for more than three weeks is 52-year old Mrs Beatrice Katsande from Hurungwe.

She says although she has sold her tobacco, cash is still a must have lest she loses property to labourers back at her farm.

“We can’t go back home without cash because the people who helped us with the tobacco want their money.

“As you know tobacco farming is taxing, it is only a matter of time before they lose their patience with us,” she said.

Mrs Katsande also feels that the merchants are not giving her tobacco grades the prices they deserve. She said the conditions they are living in are difficult as they wait for their cash together with hundreds, if not thousands, of other farmers.

“We sleep in a space provided by TSF which is too small for all the farmers.

She added that the vendors who capitalise on the tobacco marketing season walk up into their place of rest any time of the night making resting a mammoth task. The idea of having to queue to relieve themselves or to take a bath has had Mrs Katsande suggesting that tobacco farmers are undervalued in this country.

“I do not think that we are respected enough, the conditions were are living in are not respectful and some of the scenes we see here put our dignity into question,” complained Mrs Katsande.

Sex workers have also been frequenting the area capitalising on homesick male farmers.

“Those girls come here in their skimpy dresses walking around at night looking for men to lure. Some of the things we are being made to endure are not easy, some of the children we see selling their bodies are very young,” she said.

With the cash crisis showing no signs of abetting soon, who is responsible for the farmers` welfare as they wait for their dues in the format they appreciate? Auction floor operators say their sole mandate is to act as a conduit between the sellers and buyers. Tobacco Sales Floor executive director Mr Peter Mujaya said they are trying to make the farmers` stay as decent as possible.

“We have always tried to bring convenience to the farmers who bring tobacco to our auction floors. We have brought banks close to the floors to make life easier for the farmers,” he said.

Mr Mujaya added that the processes within their auction floors do not take time but most farmers are waiting for cash from banks.

“We provide a platform where buyers and sellers meet; we make it convenient for both parties but we always try to go the extra mile to ensure that farmers are comfortable as they conduct their business.”

He mentioned the canteen facilities, clinic facilities and a police post situated around their complex as part of their way of ensuring that farmers are safe. In some instances they reach out to farmers who appear stranded.

“Sometimes we invite individual farmers we would have identified as having been here for a long time and offer them food.

“We also have bathing facilities for farmers here,” he said.

Mr Mujaya said they sometimes overstep their mandate to house the farmers out of the good relations shared between the two parties. He feels there are times their goodwill has been ill appreciated.

“Whenever there is a gathering there is bound to be problems somehow. The only place you don’t get that is a church,” he said.

TSF auction floors were perhaps the most affected by the cash grievances as they saw farmers demonstrating on their doorstep last week, frustrated by the absence of cash. Mr Mujaya maintained that TSF were not part of the equation.

“Farmers were complaining about cash. Some banks had run out of cash and the farmers got angry,” he said.

The money for tobacco purchases is deposited beforehand so the auction floor company is exonerated from the agitation. The Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board also argue that they need to stick to their core area which doesn’t include farmer welfare. TIMB Public Relations Manager and Communications Mr Isheunesu Moyo said they do not encourage long stays at the sales floors.

“Floors are not dormitories, we do not encourage farmers to stay at the floors for too long,” he said.

According to him, the TIMB mandate does not include telling sales floor operators to increase their facilities in the wake of swelling tobacco farmer numbers. There is a chance that farmers may be demoralised after this gruelling marketing season but the tobacco regulatory authority believes they have ideas to incentivise farmers.

“We are availing funding for drip irrigation and training farmers on good agronomic practices. We hope the farmers keep bringing us quality tobacco,” Mr Moyo said.

He added that cash complaints fall under the jurisdiction of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe and banks, and that there is not much that TIMB can do to assist farmers to who want their payments in cash.

One of the issues affecting sales this year was the new e-marketing system. Most auction floors only used their e-marketing for a few weeks before abandoning it. Insiders said it was delaying the selling process.

Mr Moyo said the board was assessing its effectiveness and will communicate in due course after doing evaluations. Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development Minister Dr Joseph Made said farmers deserve better conditions in sync with their hard work. According to Dr Made, the Ministry of Agriculture is engaging the relevant authorities to rectify the cash question being asked by farmers.

“We continue to engage with the Ministry of Finance, the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe and banks to see if there is a way to increase the cash allocation to farmers,” he said.

However, the RBZ is in a tight space as most of the crop has not yet been exported.

“We sympathise with the RBZ because most of the tobacco has not yet been exported. It is still in the processing stage and this means that they have not yet managed to get the foreign currency,” Minister Made said.

The auctioning system being used in Zimbabwe still follows a colonial template meant to serve a small group of farmers.

Now that the land was redistributed, the Government is mulling a change in approach.

“We have to lessen the farmers’ burden, this is why we instructed the TIMB to decentralise the tobacco auctioning because unlike in the colonial era where there were 200 tobacco farmers, there are more black tobacco farmers from different regions,” he said.

This was the rationale behind licensing auction floors in Karoi and Rusape. The Minister warned that the decentralising process was delicate and needs careful planning.

“Decentralising the auction floors has to be done carefully; buyers have to be willing to travel to get the crop from auctions close to the source.

This will ease the stress on the farmer who would have spent close to nine months working on their crop,” said Minister Made.

When this process is fully in motion, it will ease the congestion on Harare auction floors by ensuring smaller numbers per facility. Evidently, the centralised system is unsustainable, a situation compounded by a cash crisis that has left farmers enduring deplorable living conditions despite being in possession of a crop equated to gold in value.

 

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  • mpengo

    This is terrible considering these farmers play such a crucial role in our economy, and are in an industry that is probably the most bankable!

    Good of Herald to bring it too light!

    Unfortunately, as we know, we have a useless reactive leadership!

    • mabwe

      That is why whites could believe that Africans can’t rule themselves. Why can’t someone remove the bottlenecks in this whole process??? Because they can’t lead.

      • mpengo

        And that is why people like you still parrot that indoctrination, and remain self-hating.

        Bad leadership has no colour. If you are aware of affairs beyond your politics, you wouldn’t be that narrow minded.

        • Tindo Man

          @mpengo, whether you like it or not, vanhu vatema we will always play second fiddle. It’s by nature. God did not create us on an equal basis with Whites. We were better off with the land in the hands of whites. What do we benefit from a bunch of former farm workers who are trying in vein the Animal Farm way to do it themselves to no avail? Give back the land tigare mushe mhani, nxa! Uri munhu weZanu iwewe. You sound Zanuish.

    • Cde Jairos Tapfuma

      I agree with you mpengo. Our If indeed agriculture is the backbone of our economy, then our farmers should be treated with the respect they deserve. The leadership is failing us big time in this regard. They did well to give us the land. They have done well in terms of command agriculture, and I expect the VP responsible for command agric to intervene and help out Joseph Made here. Farmers deserve better. Politics pa side, varimi vanokosha. Farmers do not have colour. Their produce does not have color or political branding. Something must be done now.

  • Zimba 1

    With a clueless government everything seems difficult.

  • Rasta!

    The govt carries on like there is no crisis in the country…shame manhingi.

  • Whitlaw Mugwiji

    Of course we are the most developed African country what did they expect, or maybe what he wanted to say was that we were the most developed country. Rambai Makashinga, pamberi na Mugabe

  • yowe

    After this article a Minister blast the West for illegal sanctions, John Bond will command banks to give farmers money …an economic analyst will start analysing the shortage of cash and blame the banks for not prioritising farmers. Then zvobva zvapera …inonzi Zimbabwe..Question remains are the Zanu bigwigs involved in tobacco farming suffering in the same way???

  • dmz

    The issues right now at the auction floors are to do with availability of money. When it comes to congestion, the farmer has a choice to go to the auction floor of his choice, if they all decide to go to TSF yet there is other two auction floors, surely farmers need to know that facilities at that one floor will be overwhelmed. There are auction floors where a farmer does not spend 24hrs in a queue at all so i wonder why Mr Jemedze had to endure such a long time is queue. You get to some floor, there is no queue for your first delivery you get your $1000 but Mr Jemedze decides to be holed up a long winding queue for a week, its certainly his choice.
    The economy is bad again and farmers need understand this. They demonstrate at auction floors holding their sales sheets, a duty that the auction floor has, and means an auction floor has done their bit. They demonstrate against banks. Amunition totally directed to the wrong target. They must demonstrate against the government, particularly RBZ to press them to release money. Buyers import forex, RBZ give farmer bond, who is fooling who, farmers must wake up and understand the procedures involved in their product, demand half payment in USD, at least but no, they think auction floors are giving then a raw deal, so how then do they go back to prepare for next season while money is holed up in banks?
    Decentralisation is complex like the minister said, this is not cotton. eMarketing has no contribution in the current crisis at all.

    • JAMES GUNIKE

      Thanks Herald for exposing mediocrity in our economic management systems, but where is farmer organisations like ZFU in all this?..busy attending workshops and useless meetings instead of confronting Government over this national disaster

  • Simon Madzongwe

    Cry my beloved country

  • CDE Chakadenga

    This is a sad story considering the ordeal these farmers have to go through during the farming season and now they are put through this excruciating circumstances. Please gvt do your part our farmers have done their part. Why punish them like this, and they are not getting access to even 50% of their money after the sale.

  • jacktheswede

    Goes on to show that black on black subjugation is rife in this country. When the whites were running the floors we never used to hear such sad stories. Years into the land reform and emergence of the black farmer, we are still this disorganised??? We are a shameful lot.

    • HebbaWaM’dara

      they were only 200 capitalising on cheap labour of thousands who are the farmers today.

  • Tambai Mese Mujairane

    Shooting the leg on which the economy stands, treating these farmers, forex earners, citizens, voters like this, making decent citizens, squaters, beggars, in their own country, their only crime – wanting to do business in their own country?

    Can the Govenment please stand up and lead. Do we have leaders??

  • moholo

    Murikutaura henyu zvemafarmers ko wanhu wari muma hospitals, munonzwa tsitsi imi….muma hospitals hamuchaiteba….

  • Minister Munhuwo

    Good lesson farmers, next when you vote you will know that an X does not only affect those in cities, ndizvo mudzidze, Land without money is not enough. Pamberi nezanu, pamberi nenhamo, pamberi nekurara panze, pamberi nenhamo

  • Madara

    nowhere near the quantity or the quality though.

    • Cde Mzvinavhu(Prof)

      Haa iwe ka! Bvumaiwo kana tagona kurima.

  • zimbotry

    This whole situation was more due to failure of Banks to pay money than anything else. What is the point of selling a crop when you can’t get paid.

    • Cde Samanyanga Dotito

      They were paid into their bank accounts. Its the cash issue. So the crisis is on the small farmers who need cash for their small payments back at home. The issue will be sorted out.

  • mpengo

    Your demeaning reference of these farmers is very shallow, misdirected and hardly shared by most well-reasoning people.

    You also need to be schooled on history. People fought for independence.

  • Cde Jairos Tapfuma

    Yes Judas Iscariot, something must be done for the farmers. being one of them, it pains to see how then get-rich-quick guys of Harare taking advantage and rendering poor the farmers who toil all year long to produce the golden leaf. We should take care of our own farmers the same way Ian Smith took care of his Boars during the UDI sanctions. Surrendering the land would not be an option. I hope Judas you have your own piece of land which you are utilising. Get something to do and play your role in your economy my brother.